Origins and Ideas

by Robert Brow

Trinity or Unity

HAVING CHOSEN MEANING rather than meaninglessness and a theistic view of creation as opposed to Monism, our next philosophical choice concerns the nature of God. Obviously God must be one. We cannot rest in the Greek pantheon of numerous gods in their own right, and we agree with Muhammad that if the Christians have three gods they are no better. Actually to my knowledge there never has been a Christian theologian who denied the unity of God. The question at issue before us is not the unity of God, but the nature of the unity of God. At any price God must be one, but that leaves us vast scope to seek a glimpse of what the divine unity is really like.

The Muslim vision of unity is in terms of mathematics. God is a mathematical unit, and so he is by definition indivisible. The mathematical refutation of the Christian Trinity is as simple as the first lesson in adding. If the Father is God and the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God, mathematics makes the answer 1 + 1 + 1 = 3, which is three Gods.[1]

The Christian vision of the unity of God is not mathematical but rather organic. The electron, proton and neutron in the simplest atom are not added to make three, but held together by atomic force to form one unit. In speaking of fruit we can assert that the skin is plum, and the juice is plum, and the stone is also plum, but that still makes only one plum. A person is one person and, except for schizophrenics, you cannot add his parts by mathematics to make a crowd. If God is a living God, we should not therefore be surprised to find a complexity within his unity. This kind of complexity is very different from the mathematical unity of Islam, but it is, however, still not Trinitarian. The Sabellians of the third century had to be corrected because the richness which they admitted within the unity of God left room for only one Person. The view of the Trinity in the great Christian creeds is a unity of three Persons in one God.

This brings us to another kind of unity, which we must use to visualize the complex unity of God. There is what we may call political or family unity. As soon as more than one person is involved, the problem of maintaining unity arises. We recognize that deep national, or group, or even family unity is rare. In this sense it is impossible to speak of the unity of one person. It is the unity of a free association of two or more persons that impresses us. The perfection of unity is not a mathematical unity but the unity of free persons. One of the perfections of God is therefore the eternal and perfect unity of his three Persons. Even more wonderful is the fact that God plans to adopt an innumerable number of persons from this world into the perfected unity of the city of God. The Trinity has always been a perfect unity of thinking, willing and feeling, but the city of God is destined to be no less one. We must explore this further in the next chapter.

Meanwhile we must note that the fact of Persons within the Godhead follows inevitably if we start with the statement that God is love. In Islam God has ninety-nine attributes and names, but love is not included among them. Obviously love requires more than one person, and if God is eternally love, he must also be more than one Person. Love might be compared to the unexplained atomic force which holds an atom together. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit may be related to each other in different ways just as electrons and neutrons have different relations to protons, but they are held inexplicably and perfectly together by love. John tells us that God is love, and in Jesus Christ we understand something of the nature of this powerful force. Christians expect God's love to be sufficient to overcome the forces which now hold us apart, and to draw us into the breath-taking unity of heaven.

In saying this we notice again the contrast with Monism. As we saw in chapter 9, Monism has no place for the continuance of the person as a person. Monistic unity is in terms of merging and absorption, and its end is the return of the drop of water to merge in the ocean whence it came. We must also contrast the Islamic heaven, which does provide for the continuance of persons, but by Muhammad's definition of the unity of God they can obviously never be one with him. There is no place for oneness with a mathematical unit, just as there is no place for the continuance of persons in a monistic unit.

Theologians have often tried to explain the emergence of the doctrine of the Trinity, and they naturally assume that it was the learned theologians of the early church who worked it out or invented it. Actually for most Christians the doctrine is only an explanation of what they have first experienced. Just as children experience eating, drinking, breathing and hearing before they study the physics and chemistry which explain how they work, so Christians know the three Persons of God before they make much progress with the theologians. As soon as a person experiences the new birth, which Jesus Christ insisted was necessary for seeing, let alone entering, the kingdom of God, he immediately begins to experience the Trinity. Jesus Christ becomes differentiated as the One who died for him, and now lives as his Friend and Lord. Instead of being a distant tyrant, the Father becomes approachable, and the One to whom worship and prayer is addressed. The experience of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit may be compared to the experience of taking a stranger into one's car when lost and exhausted in a fog on a dark night. He waits to be invited, but it turns out that he not only knows the way but is willing to guide, and even take over the driving, if he is asked. These three Persons are distinct, and the Christian is related to them in different ways, but they are Persons and they are One.

The doctrine of the Trinity is connected with every branch of theology, and it makes Christian theology absolutely different from the theology of every other religion or sect.

We have noted the implications of the Trinity in Christian experience. In the book of Genesis it is the three Persons of God who say 'Let us make man in our own image'. If God was a mathematical unit, no image would be possible without making another God. The image of God means that man, like each Person of the Trinity, is a per-son able to have intellectual, emotional and volitional fellowship with God. The doctrine of the Trinity is also necessarily connected with the Christian understanding of the Person of Christ. With a Muslim view of God as a mathematical unit Jesus can be a great prophet, and even appointed as judge of all men; but he cannot be the Son of God. On a monistic view of God he may be one of those who have had a perfect experience of unity with God, but Monism cannot conceive of a plurality of persons, since all persons must merge in the one World Soul. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is also part and parcel of the Christian world-view, and it is found in no other religious system.

Having set out the logic of these religious alternatives, we can see some options to live by. If this world has a purpose for man to discover, that purpose must be discovered by some kind of oneness with our world (Monism) or that purpose is found by knowing the mind of the Creator (Theism). If there is a theistic Creator the main alternatives seem to be the Unitarian and Trinitarian views of God. On the other hand if this world has no inherent purpose, and we begin with meaninglessness, there are again certain options such as atheistic Existentialism and Nihilism. Thus comparative religion can set out alternative systems. Which religion or world-view a man chooses is his freedom.

This mutual confrontation of religious alternatives, and by our definition all world-views and ideologies are religious, leaves us no place for neutrality. If we live as humans at all we are religious in some sense. The question is whether there is any way to discover which is the way we ought to adopt. At that point I do not think logic can help us. Logic and argumentation can help us see the inner consistency of a particular world-view; it cannot prove that it should be adopted. That is why Paul stated categorically that faith cannot be produced by argument (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). If faith was the result of logical reasoning we would expect all the most intelligent people to be converted to one religion or ideology. It seems that God in his wisdom has insisted on freedom of religion, and this freedom cannot be forced by human reason or logic.

Chapter 11...


1. A flippant answer to this is to say that if you want to apply mathematics to God you have to multiply rather than add, and 1 x 1 x 1 = 1. There may be more truth to this quip than we realize, but we are not concerned with debating-points. Our task is to set out the options and the reasons for holding them.

Chapter 11...